Rising Defilement Cases In Malawi Raise More Questions Than Answers
By Tiwonge Adau
Rising cases of defilement in the African nation of Malawi begs the question the effectiveness of projects being implemented to address the problem.
“My 17 year old daughter was defiled by an unknown assailant some 10 years ago when she was just a little girl and this led to her destruction,” narrates Wezie Shaba mother to Jane Shaba (identities hidden) from Kajiso Shaba Village in northern Malawi’s district of Mzimba.
Wezie says since the incident happened in the year 2000 and her daughter’s behaviour changed and she even had to quit school because her friends would call her a wife because of the experience she had gone through.
“As I am talking to you now, Jane got married way back when she was about 13 and all this was because she lost her self confidence, was demoralised, lost and bitter with her life. She dropped out of school and was home all the time and became wayward to the extent of going to bars at Ekwendeni Trading Centre to sleep around with older men,” bemoaned Wezie.
In the year 2000 Jane was in standard 4 at St. Michael’s Primary School in Ekwendeni but met her fate on her way back home.
Jane’s story is just one among hundreds of untold stories of girls that are defiled in the country and see their lives crumbling in front of their eyes with little prospects of success.
Statistics from the Malawi Police Service show that there was a 13% increase of defilement cases in 2016 as compared to the previous year. This is despite campaigns by the government and Gender Rights Activists to fight the crime.
According to Central Malawi’s Commissioner of Police George Kainja, Central Region alone registered an increase of 357 cases in 2014 to 444 in 2015 which represents a 24.4 percent rise in the defilement cases.
The increase in the cases has brought fear and shock among the citizenry because children as young as one year old are victims.
But the big question on people’s minds remains that, “Why are these cases on the increase instead of being on the decrease?”
The Penal Code of Malawi criminalizes sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 with or without her consent. According to a paper presented by two Chancellor College Faculty of Law lecturers Ngeyi Kanyongolo and Bernadette Malunga, research shows a number of challenges in the legal treatment of defilement cases by both the formal and traditional systems living the protection of girls from sexual abuse at stake.
The paper adds that such challenges include inefficiencies in the delivery of public services by agencies such as the police and courts as compounded by traditional systems. Ultimately, the combination of the two adversely affects access to justice.
However, as the number of sectors put the blame on the Judiciary for fuelling these defilement cases by being too lenient on those found guilty of defilement, Judiciary Spokesperson Mlenga Mvula argues that it is not the courts which are fuelling these disheartening cases.
He explains: “As Judiciary we try in all angles to discharge our duties in a professional way as much as possible and on the issue of us fuelling defilement cases, I will say that is not true. When giving penalties to those found guilty, we follow what the constitution or the penal code tells us to do not otherwise. If anyone is to be blamed, then blame the parliamentarians because they are the ones who make those laws. It is not the role of Judiciary to make laws but rather work on the already made laws.”
On her part, retired Magistrate and Child Rights activist Esmie Tembenu says that she thinks cultural backgrounds have contributed to the increase in child sexual abuse cases.
“During the one party era, discussions of sexual matters especially with children were considered a taboo subjects. There was a culture of silence. Culturally, some people believed that a girl child was a grandfather’s cousins or even uncle’s wife.